Aparigraha or Bust

Aparigraha, or nonpossessiveness, can also be interpreted as nonattachment, nongreed, nonclinging, nongrasping, and noncoveting; we can simply think of it as being able to “let go”. -The Yamas & The Niyamas, Deborah Adele

For the past three years, my husband and I have been planning to move. We kept our plans to ourselves for the most part, except for very close family and friends. And even many of those family and friends seemed to forget about our plan as time went on. The reasons for the move are many and not important here, but suffice it to say that in preparation for this move, we did huge renovation projects on our 160 year old house and sold a lot of items like our motorcycles, kayaks, books, excess furniture and more. When my husband moved abroad a few weeks before Christmas, many people were surprised, and all this slow-budding planning came into partial fruition. Here it is. It’s happening.

While he is there (with the support of his extended family), I am carrying on as usual with our children in this big, old house. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be for any of us. The first two weeks were rough. We all grieved and had our ways of coping with the newness of his absence, but then Christmas came as a distraction and we spontaneously drove to Florida to get out of the weird empty vibes of our house to visit the sunshine and my wonderful sister.

The start of January brought a new semester for the kids (one in college, one in high school, one in elementary school) and my usual yoga teaching gigs as well as a new teacher training cohort. Back to seven days a week of doing all the things. It’s a welcome distraction from missing my partner of 25 years, over which time, we have never been away from one another longer than a week, maybe 3 times at best.

Missing him as immensely as I do spurs me on to attack my long To-Do list. Getting through the list not only keeps me busy, but as I cross things off, I feel like I’m just a little bit closer to reuniting us. My To-Do list has mundane things on it like, Recycle eye glasses; Research new school system; Paint the basement floor. Paint the porch. Take dog to vet. Take Mom to doctor. Each week I cross more things off my list. One of the bigger jobs is to drastically reduce the amount of things we own. When we move, we are essentially taking our clothing and a few keepsakes because it is too expensive to ship mediocre furniture overseas (heirloom Ikea beds, anyone?).

A half shoe box of photos is all that is left from fifteen photo albums.

And while my friends have long-laughed at what a ‘Purger’ I have always been, we still have stuff. This is not a house of minimalism. We moved into this house when I was 25 years old and 8 months pregnant with my first child. Five years later I gave birth to our second child in our bedroom. Ten years later I gave birth to our third child in our bathroom. That’s five family members that have been in this house for over 20 years (obviously, some of us longer than others).

Books are something else that need to be purged. Living in a house this old, every room seems to have built-in book shelves, and if they don’t we have added our own. Over the past few years I’ve gotten rid of a LOT of books. I’d pack up boxes and drive around our sweet city that is blessedly dotted with ‘Little Free Libraries’ all over town, and I’d stuff as many books as I could. Despite giving away stacks and stacks, each room (and a built-in hallway shelf) is home to many books. Sigh. Books have always been such a big part of this house and to our lives. I’m rarely sentimental over stuff , but letting go of books feels like giving away friends. I can do it, but it’s equally interesting and absurd to see what I’ve held onto so far, to see my Attachments. Do I really need the Spoon River Anthology from my high school drama days?! Yikes.

Another purging that I was long dreading was going through fifteen fat photo albums, as well as a huge box of framed photos and taking only the photos I really treasured. If you’re too young to remember photo albums, let me remind you: before digital cameras, the internet and social media, one used an actual camera with film to document images from one’s life. Then the film would be taken to a store to be developed and photos were printed from the negatives. MAGIC! I grew up loving old photos. I’d look through our family photo albums at least once a week as a child and all through my teen years. In high school I took two semesters of Photography and learned how to take, develop and print my own photos (a darkroom is the perfect place for an angry punk rock girl!). Suffice it to say, I had a lot of photos to go through. Photos that started in the mid 1970s up to last year.

I’m happy to report that going through all those photo albums made me realize I didn’t need stacks of photos of friends and old boyfriends I’ve not spoken to in decades. There were photos of family members I couldn’t quite pinpoint which side of the family they were from. There were pictures of old, long-gone cars and pets, as well as numerous impressive snowstorms.

The whole experience of purging so many photos was way easier than I thought it would be and I credit this to two things: the yoga Yama of Aparigraha and the two year anniversary of my Dad’s death in late December.

My Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 spleen/liver cancer in March 2017. He was initially given 6 months to live but made it 18 months, all of which he remained independent and mobile. As my Dad got progressively sicker, he sold his house and his boat, turned in his lease vehicle and bought a used car and got rid of extraneous belongings. The last few months of his life he lived in the guest room of his older sister’s house with a storage unit holding his remaining things.

When he was healthy, my Dad’s house was decorated blandly like a suite at the Holiday Inn. There were absolutely no personal touches to it at all. No artwork, no decorative vases, no house plants, even. He kept a few framed photos of his kids and grandkids, likely only because we gifted them to him! His house used to drive me crazy. He was a clean freak and taking my kids there when they were younger had me on pins and needles for fear they’d rub orange Cheetos fingers on his white micro-suede sofa.

When he died, my siblings and I mentally prepared ourselves to go to the storage unit. We opened the door with bated breath and found only a tiny shed full of boring, non-descript household items with zero sentimental factors for any of us. There was one small box full of cards and photos we’d sent him over the years. We were surprised and touched that he kept them. And we threw them away. After all, who wants a card they’d sent someone a decade ago? Everything else went to Purple Heart, which was conveniently located across the street and came to us for pickup. What we thought would be a harrowing, raw experience of digging through our Dad’s life was virtually painless.

My sister said, “Wow. He made that really, really easy for us.”

And we were grateful.

Between planning this move, experiencing my Dad’s passing and his storage unit, my entire being has been shook by the amount of possessions we have and as such, I’ve been even more thoughtful about what we purchase and consume. I have always prided myself on buying items and clothing from thrift stores or obtaining them from clothing swaps in order to reuse/repurpose goods as opposed to buying cheap, fast fashion. As soon as any of our kids out-grew their clothing, books, or toys, I was quick to donate them.

I have stayed on top of our shit.

And yet, there’s always more.

I’m in this season of life I am literally clearing out so much past clutter in order to make room to move forward. When these plans first started to come together 3 years ago, the idea of leaving this beloved old house and her beautiful gardens and multiple bookshelves hurt my sappy, loving heart. Now, with my husband gone to the other side of the ocean, the stuff means nothing. The stuff feels like old shoes that no longer fit. The more things I shed and the faster I re-home them, the sooner we can be a whole family once again.

I am immensely grateful for this house. For being our cozy shelter for so long. For allowing me to lean on her walls and her window sills as I pushed my babies into my own hands. For the gardens that grew many years and pantries worth of fresh food that fed us well. For her creaky wood floors that bore the weight of chunky toddler feet and lots of muddy boots. For all of this and so much more. There will be big grateful tears when the day comes to move on. It will be a loud, sobbing process I am sure. But it won’t be a process of grasping for what was. It will be a big, heartfelt gesture of gratitude.

But we’re not there yet.

So with each thing I release, I thank it for it’s time and purpose in our lives, and I look forward to being back with the person we love and miss dearly, some day. Hopefully soon. With a much lighter load.

Aparigraha invites us to let go and pack lightly for our journey through life, all the while caring deeply and enjoying fully. – The Yamas & The Niyamas by Deborah Adele


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